Notes From Spring Practice: Day 1

After putting their finishing touches on a historic 2011 season with a third conference championship and first Rose Bowl win in 95 years, the Oregon Ducks returned to the practice field Tuesday afternoon secluded from the media and general public, though focused on 2012.

According to Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, day one of spring football was "awful" for the Ducks, coming off their third straight conference championship and their first Rose Bowl win in 95 years.

"[It was] the worst practice we've ever had since we've been here," the coach continued.

Apparently April Fools' Day came late this year for the usually punctual coach, entering his fourth year as the Oregon headman. In reality, Kelly said he was very pleased with the first of 15 spring practices that will take place in the month of April, stating he was particularly happy with his team's energy and focus.

"The kids had great energy and they were out there early running around," said Kelly. "We have great leadership. We've got kids like Michael Clay, John Boyett, Carson York; kids who have been here for a long, long time and understand how we're supposed to practice."

Though spring drills are closed to members of the media and the general public, Kelly and Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich were peppered with a myriad of questions surrounding arguably the hottest topic heading in to the 2012 season for the Ducks: The battle for the starting quarterback position between sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

For Kelly, in evaluating his quarterbacks -- and every position for that matter -- the coach said he desires to see improvement from one day, to the next.

"It really doesn't matter who your starting quarterback is on April 28, because we don't play until September 1," said Kelly. "At every position on your team -- and it's the same thing I told our kids in our team meeting -- it's, ‘Do you improve from practice one to practice 15?' and that's it."

Repetitions between both Bennett and Mariota will be split evenly, according to Helfrich, who said the competition between the two is, "dead even." Lending credence to Helfrich's assessment of the battle between the two, was the coach's difficulty to describe the differences -- however subtle -- between the two players with uniquely similar skill-sets.

"They're probably more similar than they are different, as players," said Helfrich. "As people, Bryan's a little bit more immediately outgoing. Marcus is a very funny, very engaging, very smart, charismatic guy, but he's more of a naturally quiet guy...Marcus is maybe a little bit taller, but they're very similar players. They can really throw it and they have the ability to make defenses pay with their feet."

Another focus this spring is the arrival of Jake Rodrigues, Evan Baylis, and Arik Armstead; three true freshmen vying for a leg up on the competition before the rest of their freshmen class arrives this summer. Of the three, Armstead is the player who has commanded the most attention, entering as one of the top overall recruits in the entire country. Rated as the top offensive tackle in the country by, Armstead plans on starring for Oregon defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro in the Ducks' front four.

"Arik is a big, athletic kid and can run around," said Kelly. "He didn't look lost out there at all."


After practice, Kelly addressed the widely reported news of the transfer of former Oregon running back Tra Carson. Parallel to an athletic department release on Monday, Kelly stated that Carson's decision to transfer was born from a desire to get closer to his home in Texarkana, Texas.

"I don't know what makes individuals happy, but if a kid expresses he wants to get closer to home, we can't move this school," said Kelly. "Attrition happens and it's a part of college football."

Kelly went on to say that he's comfortable with the two running backs he currently has on scholarship in senior Kenjon Barner and sophomore De'Anthony Thomas.

There have been no new developments concerning potential disciplinary action to be leveled against junior wide receiver Josh Huff, who was arrested exactly one month ago on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants. Kelly declined to discuss the ifs and whens surrounding any potential punishment for Huff, saying, "Josh Huff is a junior for our football team and that's all," when asked what the Houston, Texas native's current status was with the team.

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney

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